The top United Nations refugee official praised today Tanzania’s decision to grant citizenship to tens of thousands of Burundian refugees who fled their homeland some 38 years ago.
The High Commissioner for Refugee António Guterres, who was at a Burundian settlement in Tanzania when the first formal notification list was posted, called the move an “historic action.”
He urged the international community to recognize Tanzania’s gesture and appealed to donors to ensure that the process of integrating the citizens is successful.
Some 162,000 people will be affected by the move, Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said today in Geneva.
Known as the “1972 Burundians,” the group of primarily Hutu ethnicity fled Burundi in 1972 after a campaign of violence by the country’s Tutsi-dominated Government at the time.
An estimated 200,000 people were killed in ethnic violence and hundreds of thousands of people escaped to neighbouring countries, including Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Zambia.
In 2008 the Tanzanian Government offered the refugees a choice of either being repatriated or applying for citizenship.
In addition to the 1972 Burundians, Tanzania has housed hundreds of thousands of Congolese refugees and other Burundians who fled during the civil war in the 1990s.
In 2000, Tanzania had the largest refugee population in Africa with 680,000 people in camps near its northwest border.
Since national reconciliation in Burundi – supported by the UN peacekeeping operation there (ONUB) – some 500,000 refugees have returned home.